What do you do when faced with a problem? Tackle it head on? Mull things over first and develop a plan of attack? We can’t solve your problems for you (if only!), but we can share the way we do things here at Kubiya. Our tips just might help you unravel the puzzles in your own life, or from our Puzzle Collection.
The prominent problem-solver Einstein famously said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes on solutions.” He understood that the value of any given solution is a direct result of a person’s capacity to recognize the problem they hope to solve. In other words, the key to efficiency is devoting your time to defining the problem as opposed to launching right into imagining solutions to it.
Below are some practical steps/ways to use when solving a complex puzzle:
- Identify the numbers and location of all pieces when possible. Do any move? What do you hear inside? Do any unique features jump out at you?
- Determine the function of each piece in relationship to each other (how/if they are attached, which pieces can move, which parts are meant to stay together and which may separate).
- Mark or identity a reference piece and immobilize the piece if possible. If you always start from the same position, the solution can be repeated. Otherwise, you might end up going in circles and wasting time.
- Identify the final outcome if possible. Some of the best and most fun puzzles will not always reveal the final outcome. However, it is very helpful to know what the goal is: is your puzzle a box that will open, will you need to remove certain pieces, is there a shape you are trying to construct, etc.
- Since mechanical puzzles vary in complexity and structure, the time it takes to solve will also vary. If the puzzle has multiple complexities, write down the possible steps in "if – then - else" statements or resolution algorithms. A simpler way to put this is to keep track of your successes and mistakes along the way. Does moving a certain piece lead to a dead end? Can you guarantee getting to a certain checkpoint in the puzzle every time by following the same steps? Take mental notes, or even real notes if that’s your style!
- Continue until success is achieved! Don’t lose hope, and don’t be afraid to step away and come back later with a fresh eye. Seriously. Sometimes the smartest thing to do is take a break and let your brain breathe.
The steps above are broad and general (because puzzles are so diverse!), so we do have a bit more to offer for help. Two different, general approaches to puzzle solving are worth contrasting:
(1) Strategic analysis
(2) Skill and resource acquisition
Using a combination of both of these is useful and sometimes required, but the second approach tends to be overlooked.
A strategic approach involves a consideration of what the problem is (Einstein and Kubiya-approved), what the components of the problem are, and how the components of the problem can be fixed or bypassed with possible solutions. The steps 1 through 6 outlined above are a great example of this approach, so we won’t go into the details again.
A skill-based approach is murkier: who do I need to be in order to be someone who could solve this problem? What necessary skills and resources do I already have? What skills and resources do I need to acquire? How can I acquire those skills? This second approach focuses on what it is actually like being someone who is able to solve a given problem or type of problem, rather than simply having a strategy for solving it. A great way to start tackling this approach would be to think about the strengths and weaknesses in your own brain. You learn by developing and storing patterns in your head. It sounds obvious to say, but you simply may not have encountered a certain type of pattern from a past puzzle that would lead you to a solution. As you work to solve a problem or accomplish a task, you draw upon these stored patterns of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. When you’re solving a puzzle, you might refer to this as your “intuition” or “gut”. All of this means that a puzzle may be solvable, just maybe not within your current skillset. Some people might say “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” but we think a better way to rephrase that might be,
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then, take a break!”
Take a break, call a friend, find a new perspective so you can come back refreshed and ready to keep trying. Brains can get burnt out, and you might just need some time to process and collect more information. If you keep getting stuck at the same spot, take the day off from puzzling and come back another day. A challenging puzzle is like a long game of Chess that you play against yourself. Luckily, you’ll win every time as long as you keep playing!”
There is always hope for solving a puzzle! That’s why we recommend combining these two strategies for the best results. If a certain puzzle is truly frustrating you, there is no shame in taking a break, or even switching to a different puzzle in the meantime. You might discover the “aha!” moment you’re looking for by solving a slightly easier puzzle. Then, you suddenly realize how the strategies you used to solve the simpler puzzle could be copied over to a more complicated puzzle! That’s why we give difficulty ratings for our puzzles at Kubiya; usually the best way to learn is to work your way up from lower level to higher level puzzles. That way, you are constantly being challenged, but you are being challenged within your capabilities. The most important part of solving any puzzle is to always make sure you’re having fun. Combined with the fun and joy of solving a new puzzle, you just might learn something along the way.
If you’re looking for a best-seller puzzle to offer a nice challenge, check out the Secret Rad Puzzle Box or Double Gear Maze puzzles – see if you can use any of the strategies outlined in this blog, and don’t be afraid to reach out with any useful strategies you may discover yourself. If you have read this far and email us the phrase “Einstein was right!” – we’ll send you a unique promotional offer towards your next order from the website.
Cheers, and happy puzzling!